Is the British government pursuing a policy which will demand that all citizens carry a Covid-19 free vaccination certificate or App or to show exemption? What does it mean for people of faith? What are the social implications?
More than 1200 Christian ministers in Britain have made it clear to the government they regard such a certificate as an “unethical form of coercion” and creation of a “surveillance state.”
To the credit of these Catholic and Protestant priests, they have come together to protest the potential for the creation of a “two tier society” – those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
Millions decline the Covid-19 jab because they do not want to risk getting ill from the jab due to their current health condition or age. They ignore the advice of their doctors, who rely upon what pharmaceutical industry and the government tell them.
Do such people deserve to be ostracised for refusing a Covid-19 vaccination?
The same concerns apply to other groups of people. Pregnant women hesitate to risk a jab. Parents hesitate to have their children and growing teenagers vaccinated. People vulnerable to blood clots, people with weak immune systems and major underlying health issues refuse the anti-virus vaccination. Some of those who refuse fear that two jabs might trigger a long illness or be life-threatening. They do not want to take the risk regardless of what their doctor tells them.
Others from different ethnic communities have endured decades of institutional and social prejudice at the hands of the government, law and police. Their level of trust in political authority in this country is low. Others, like myself, see no reason to have the jab. We prefer use of excellent quality facemasks for shopping, spend plenty of time outdoors in fresh air and live a mindful vigilance in daily life. A Covid-19 vaccination does not prevent the virus from having an impact on everybody. It only reduces the symptoms.
I do not draw the conclusion that the prevalence of power, control and profit involved in Covid-19 will also carry it with it a pure intention. For example, vaccine companies refuse to share knowledge and technology to maximise production of vaccines at the expense of much of the world’s population. I believe vaccinations have a genuine contribution to make but I do not have the confidence that the vaccination with a certificate serves as the silver bullet to a complicated health issue to solve Covid-19 and its variants and mutations.
The Times (UK) newspaper reported on 6 April. “Government plans to test adults twice weekly for coronavirus have been condemned by scientists as “beyond reckless” amid concerns that they could falsely reassure people and lead to an increased spread of the virus.”
If the government give the green light to vaccine certificates, all those, who decline the jab, will find themselves marginalised from numerous social events. People may have to show a vaccine certificate to attend weddings, funerals, gyms, social occasions and more. Sections of society without the certificate will have their religious and spiritual freedom curtailed preventing them from attending church services, mosques, synagogues, ashrams, Buddhist retreat centres and yoga classes.
Since early 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have exercised an unprecedent demand on our lives to keep us indoors, separate and entrenched in a contracted way of life. We would be healthier and happier if the government insisted we spend more time outdoors walking in quiet streets with kindly neighbourhood watch schemes to be mindful of the needs of each other, young and old alike. We could spend time in the grounds of apartments, or in the garden, park or countryside, alone or chatting with others using a facemask, as used in hospitals. We would not have an epidemic of loneliness, stress and domestic abuse with such an approach while keeping to the scientific guidelines to minimise transmission of Covid-19.
World War 2 does not compare to this growing ravage upon civil liberties. Between 1939-1945, people did not face arrest and fines if they travelled a few kilometres from their home or went outdoors too often.
Around 70,000 UK civilians died in the six years of the war primarily due to Nazis bombing of our cities. Around 127,000 UK civilians have died from Covid-19 in 15 months.
The government and scientists made poor judgements month after month. This included sending Covid-19 patients back from the hospital to their home for the aged, 18 million visitors poured into the country on flights, ships and trains. Some transmitted Covid-19 within days of arrival. We witnessed much mismanagement of the search and trace campaign, corruption through awarding contracts to businesses with friends in government and a government policy of offering cheap meals to eat out. Covid-19 spread like wildfire.
Early in the pandemic, the government permitted huge sport events, such as the European cup in Liverpool and the Cheltenham races. Such a calamitous approach also reduced public confidence in the government. Not surprisingly, UK ranked among the top five countries with the highest death toll from Covid-19. Then came the UK mutation of Covid-19, the country’s biggest ‘export’ since Brexit.
The world will not easily forgive and forget the lack of judgement of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in handling the epidemic. Right or wrong, he will be associated worldwide with the highly infectious UK variant and its global impact. His name around the world might go well down in infamy for generations.
British media and the population continue to act in a compliant way with little indication of radical change to exercise wise judgement. Change in Britain reveals itself as a gradual increase in submission to the government while its scientific medical advisors display a weakness in terms of standing up to government policies lacking the rigor of scientific evidence.
The Human Cost of Refusing a Vaccination
A vaccination passport confirms a deliberate policy of segregation – sugar-coated in the public belief there is no alternative.
Those without the jab will find themselves relegated to the periphery of any meaningful social life. They will find it difficult to get employment, enter public buildings , theatres, hotels, stadiums, cinemas and cultural events. People might need to show their App or paper certificate to enter a pub or coffee shop.
The protection from the vaccination may last six months or longer and then the whole process of nationwide jabs has to start up all over again. It is hard to imagine the stress level at home and workplace for everybody,
The passport policy will also likely put an end or cause a massive reduction in demonstrations with police ring fencing roads to check whether protestors have a Covid19 -free certificate. The country has already witnessed the heavy-handed actions of the police to a peaceful gathering with floral tributes to a murdered woman in south London walking home from a friend’s house at 9 pm. A police officer has been charged with her murder.
The Scottish government ordered the closure of churches in the country, the first time in 500 years. Seventy Church leaders in Scotland have said they will take their government to court for violating human rights.
One Church leader said: “We are able to do some things remotely via broadcasting but many, especially the poorest, the oldest and those most vulnerable, have no access to this.
“They are excluded completely from the possibility of Christian worship and the comfort and encouragement in life and death only this can give. Due to the severe restrictions upon gatherings and significant distress this has caused, we have faced no alternative but to pursue legal action.”
Are there signs of a Buddhist response to vaccination certificates?
You might think that Western Buddhists would join hands with men and women of other faiths, and those of no faith, campaigning to put an end to the oncoming medical apartheid of vaccination certificates.
The Buddha proclaimed three jewels in life – the jewel of awakening, the Dharma (teachings and practices for awakening) and the Sangha (gathering/network/congregation of people dedicated to the first two jewels).
Religious and secular Buddhists have barely uttered a voice of indignation about the upcoming issuing of Covid-19 jab certificates. Despite all teachings and practices in the Buddhist tradition of non-discrimination and inter-connection of all beings, Buddhist leaders/seniors/elders/academic seem to have remained on their meditation cushion at home with their eyes closed.
I understand the board of Israel’s foremost Dharma centre has decided only those who have a vaccine certificate can attend retreats though no reference appears on the website. This rule applies to Dharma teachers and retreat participants. Israel has several fine teachers with a depth of experience over decades. I had contact with a senior and much loved Israeli teacher, who can no longer teach her retreats at the centre. One manager, also with many years of Dharma service, told me she has “lost her community.”
The locking out of teachers or participants from a retreat centre shows discrimination, not compassion. It does not take much imagination to enable anybody, vaccinated or not, to attend a retreat. This is a congregation of people, who cherish mindfulness, meditation and wise application of the practice. Surely centres can offer retreats to ensure the safety and peace of mind for all who attend a residential retreat or course in a city centre regardless of whether they had the vaccination or not. Churches, mosques, synagogues and yoga centres have the same responsibility to take great care of those who attend such places starting social distancing, facemasks, washing hands and more services with few people in attendance at each one.
Who in the UK wants to queue at a checkpoint outside every venue waiting to show their ‘green pass.’ Israel has imposed checkpoints on the Palestinians for decades. I have passed through them many times – witnessing stress, bullying and intimidation of Palestinians in long queues in the blazing sun. Israeli citizens might well find themselves in a long queue at checkpoints in Israel waiting to show their pass to officials. Is it karmic justice?
Most Buddhist retreat centres worldwide have temporarily closed. Many centres experience immense financial hardship. Buddhists, mindfulness practitioners and others need to know whether the centre welcomes all regardless of colour, ethnicity, gender preferences and vaccination status.
It is important that those who have had the Covid-19 vaccination recognise the same moral basis to decline the jab, decline support for vaccine certificates and decline to marginalise such people from public gatherings.
A Shift from Lockdown to Lockout
In a surveillance state, the government will authorise the police to use their technology to ensure only those who have the appropriate App on their phone or Covid free certificate can join an event. The App will state whether she or he has had the vaccination and when, the date when they caught the virus that developed anti-bodies or the date when the person has been declared exempt. The rest will be told to go back home or face arrest. That means a shift from lockdown to lockout and a return to lockdown for those disqualified from spending time with groups of others.
The demand that every single citizen must follow the majority robs people of the right to make up their own mind on vaccinations. This same principle would apply if jabs were 100% safe, a once in a lifetime event with no possibility of further mutations and further outbreaks of suffering and death due to Covid-19 or the next global pandemic. That is certainly not the case.
The Victorian state government of Australia introduced in 2016 a mandatory ‘No Jab, No Pay’ and ‘No Jab, No Play’ immunisation policy on families. Such pressure on mums, dads and children did not work. Vaccine-uptake did not improve among parents who declined the jab for themselves or their children, despite their financial hardship. Principles take priority over abuse of power.
The Churches have told the British government they will not block people who do not have a certificate from entering a church.
I believe Buddhist retreat centres need to adopt the same compassionate policy. Discrimination against people does not save lives but only increases suffering and division.
Freedom matters and that includes freedom from discriminatory measures of the authoritarian state.